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China has an unrivalled degree of natural diversity. Deserts, where blistering heat alternates with freezing cold, majestic mountain ranges, forests inhabited by giant pandas and sharp karst peaks which compete for space with rushing water – China has it all. Although the scenery is spread all over the country, most areas are easy to reach by train or by air.
While one fifth of the world’s population lives in China, most of the cities are concentrated in the east, and two-thirds of the vast country consists of unspoiled wood or grassland. There are more bird species here than almost anywhere else in the world, as well as great mammals such as giant pandas and panthers. And China doesn’t only have enormous biodiversity – the country can also pride itself on landscapes in all flavours. There are now ten Chinese natural sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and this number continues to grow.
The beauty of the area around the southern city of Guilin can be seen everywhere in China: the karst landscape of the Li River is portrayed on the back of the 20-yuan banknote. A boat trip on the river runs alongside miles of mountain peaks which resemble a great egg tray. This décor, carved out by the running water, is awash with bamboo forests and rice fields where water buffalo and farmers work. Positioned on the deck of a boat or bamboo raft you have all the time in the world to enjoy this magical Chinese landscape.
Chengdu is not only the home of the giant panda – Sichuan Province comprises unique mountain landscapes that have been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. There is, for instance, the scenic area whose poetic name Huanglong (Yellow Dragon) already announces its striking colours. Here, glaciers and snow covered mountain peaks tower above hot springs. Basins formed over the centuries by running water are populated by algae which turn the water a yellow to deep green colour. Although giant pandas and leopards live in this area, you’re not likely to encounter these shy animals on your hike.
Mount Emei is in the same foothills of the Himalayas. This is where Buddhism gained its first foothold in China and where the oldest temples in the country can be found. The historic bronze sculptures, gardens and tombs in the woods are often concealed behind a veil of mist, which only adds to the mystical atmosphere.
The northern Chinese landscape is constituted by desolate subarctic scenery. A 2,000-kilometre stretch consisting of the Gobi desert and surrounding steppe was once the domain of dinosaurs. Nowadays nomads inhabit the unending grasslands, which are interrupted here and there by flocks of sheep, shepherds and colourful flowers. The skies are a clear blue almost every day in this part of China. Other than in July and August, there is barely any rain, and pollution is unheard of. Despite the sweltering heat of summer and the cold of the Arctic winter, the inhabitants of the steppe still live in felt tents. These tents are comfortable enough to serve as bases for tourists to explore the empty plains. Gallop on a horse on the steppe, brave the distant sand dunes on camelback, or go on endless hikes without meeting anyone. Hohhot, the capital of the Inner Mongolian, is a central place in this region. Here you can visit the Inner Mongolia Museum which has exhibits of dinosaur fossils.